Huge crowds gathered yesterday in Stockholm for a “Lovefest” vigil against terrorism, two days after a truck attack that police believe was committed by an Uzbek man interested in Islamist militant groups.
Stockholm city officials said more than 20,000 people took part in the vigil, organised after the suspect mowed down shoppers in a stolen truck before slamming into the facade of the bustling Ahlens department store on Friday afternoon.
The motive was not known, but the method resembled previous attacks using vehicles in Nice, Berlin and London, all of them claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.
The suspected driver, arrested hours after the attack, has been identified only as a 39-year-old man from Uzbekistan who had shown interest in extremist groups and who was facing deportation after his residency permit application was denied, police said.
He “showed interest for extremist organisations like IS”, senior police officer Jonas Hysing told reporters.
A second suspect has also been formally placed under arrest over the attack, Stockholm district court judge Helga Hullman said yesterday, revealing no information about his link to the Uzbek.
Friday’s attack has deeply shocked the usually tranquil Scandinavian nation, which prides itself on its openness and tolerance.
“It’s very important to stay strong together against anything that wants to change our society, which is based on democracy,” said one participant in the vigil who gave her name only as Marianne, attending with her elderly mother.
“We talk, we don’t fight,” she told AFP as she joined the crowds thronging the Sergels Torg plaza, a stone’s throw from the scene of the attack.
One woman offered flowers to police officers guarding the plaza.
“Thank you,” she said with a smile.
“Fear shall not reign. Terror cannot win,” Stockholm mayor Karin Wanngard told the crowd, saying that terrorism would be defeated with “kindness and openness”.
Linking arms, under flags flying at half-mast, the crowd held a minute of silence for the victims.
“We don’t respond with fear, we respond with love,” read one poster held by a woman wearing a headscarf.
The Uzbek suspect had been due to be deported from Sweden after his residency application was rejected last year.
“He applied for a permanent residency permit in 2014. The Migration Agency rejected it in June 2016 and also decided that he was to be deported,” Hysing said.
The man was told last December that he had four weeks to leave the country, but in February his case was handed over to the police “since the person had gone underground”, Hysing told reporters.
Police apparently never found the man, whom authorities have said was known to Sweden’s intelligence service for undisclosed reasons.
Media reports said the man, a father of four who worked in construction, did not come across as having been radicalised.
“He partied and drank,” one of his friends said.
The family of an 11-year-old Swedish girl have meanwhile confirmed that she was one of the four people killed in the truck attack.
The Foreign Office in London confirmed that a British man, 41-year-old Chris Bevington, was among the dead, while the Belgian foreign ministry said that a Belgian woman had been killed.
The fourth victim was only known to be a Swedish national.
Fifteen people were injured, four of whom were in critical condition.
Police have said they were increasingly sure the Uzbek was the driver of the truck.
“There is nothing to indicate that we’ve got the wrong man. On the contrary, the suspicions have strengthened,” national police chief Dan Eliasson said on Saturday.
Police had found a suspect device in the cab of the truck.
“A technical examination is ongoing, we can’t go into what it is right now ... whether it’s a bomb or a flammable device,” Eliasson said.
Friday’s attack the second terror attack in Stockholm.
In December 2010, a suicide bomber blew himself up, also on the Drottninggatan street, slightly injuring several passersby.
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